Jacquard loom woven book

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Joseph Marie Jacquard and his loom

Charles Babbage

Herman Hollerith

Early computing devices

Punched cards



Matthew Westerby, The Woven Prayer Book: From Cocoon to Codex (2019)

“ Many medieval manuscripts on parchment, and especially illuminated Prayer Books, were assembled from discrete components made at different times and places. These woven Prayer Books are also the result of successive stages, just like the manuscripts that inspire its pages – from fabrication, customization, and binding to gifting and ownership.” (5)

One copy made for elite Parisian couple, with their coats of arms and wedding date woven on a preliminary page

3 in ornate gold-tooled bindings

2 in standard Morocco binding

Exhibited at 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle

Appeared in 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, site of the world’s first Ferris when

Title page has coat of arms of city of Lyon

Pages are woven with 400 threads per ink, each black silk thread of the weft (vertical) passing under the grayish silver threads of the warp (horizontal)

Took 2 years and close to 50 trials before a full book was successfully completed (12)

100k cards

“ If laid out end to end the mass of punch cards that controlled the loom’s movements would cover over seven hundred and fifty square feet (equal to seventy square meters) – easily the entire floorspace of a one-bedroom apartment.” (12)

“ At least partly because it falls between the cracks of traditional cataloguing, no complete census of surviving copies of the Livre de prières tissé exists, nor is it clear how many were fabricated. “ (14)

Jacquard loom invented in Lyon; made on Cevennes silk from south-central France

“The partnership behind its production is recorded in an escutcheon supported by the two rampant lions of Lyon: the designer Father Jean Hervier, the fabricator Joseph-Alphonse Henry, and the editor Antoine Roux.” (14)

“ Silk weaving houses were family enterprises handed down across generations, as was the case with Joseph-Alphonse Henry (1836– 1913). Assuming the mantle of his family’s growing business in 1861, Henry specialized in luxurious liturgical vestments and special productions for the highest echelons of the church, including Pope Pius XII. Presaging the woven Prayer Book, Henry created a grand woven pictorial dais for the basilica of Notre-Dame de La Salette between 1874 and 1876 that portrayed dozens of saints with complex iconography. 7 Around this same time in 1884 the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière was completed, a towering neo-Gothic landmark overlooking the city of Lyon. “ (16)

“ Surprisingly, a predecessor to the woven Prayer book exists in an unillustrated woven book also made by J. A. Henry in 1878, which was reissued in 1886 with decorated borders. 8 Containing the poem “Les Laboureurs” from the book Jocelyn by Alphonse de Lamartine, this earlier woven book, of which only a few examples are known, was in many ways a testbed that enabled the studio to embark on the second and much more widely hailed marvel, the Livre de prières tissé. “ (18)

“ Like parchment or vellum, silk is similarly imbued by the living things from which it is obtained. Indeed, the woven Prayer Book emulates the look and feel of fine, glassy vellum. “ (18)

Differences in color among the books, one has a woven date of 1902, another 1900 — book continued to be made

Hervier — original drawings donated to Musee des Tissus in Lyon in 2015

“ Rather than drafting each page to completion, Hervier instead completed sections of each border which could be rotated or flipped in the process of encoding the design onto punch cards by way of mise en carte – a process not too different from the computer-aided design practiced today. “ (21)


Durand 2015, “Manuscrit du Livre de prières tissé,” www.mtmad.fr, Musée des Tissus, Lyon, inv. no. 2015.5.57, gifted by Don Truchot, successor to J. A. Henry. Archives from both firms are also preserved by Prelle, an active manufacturer in Lyon with showrooms in Paris and New York.


The mise en carte for the woven Prayer Books was executed by Christophe Gerbaud. Two pages are conserved at the Musée des Tissus in Lyon (inv. 49277.1 and 49277.2). Gerbaud also worked with designs drawn by the artist Gaspard Poncet for the Angel Chasuble made by J. A. Henry in 1889. 
 Only other designs known by Hervier are of seashells, made it into a journal


“Every set of woven pages allowed for customization inside an escutcheon on the first unnumbered page, but only some examples were customized for their owners or recipients.” (24)

“ Many facsimile editions of medieval manuscripts, some simulating even the material of parchment, were intended to teach prayer practices and to promote a French cultural identity through a new appreciation of manuscript illumination. Parisian publishers dominated the production of this type of gift book in neo- Gothic style, most with texts for Mass and marriage. Many were widely published, even churned out, in partly-illustrated editions without color, but others were written and illuminated by hand.” (24)

Not known whether customized pair of pages was woven on demand to supplement pre-fabricated books or if entire book was woven at once — slight color variations in silk suggest latter


“Displayed in a vitrine nearby other Lyonnaise silk weavers, the woven Prayer Book’s relatively side-show status – located away from the displays of books and bindings – very likely added to its novelty and desirability among Parisian bibliophiles. The woven book dazzled Paul Marais, adjunct curator at the Bibliothèque Mazarine, who was among the first to praise its novelty and ingenuity. “ (27)

In Chicago, displayed in the “Woman’s Building”: “ Devoted to fine arts and craft, at that time associated with “woman’s work” and femininity, the Woman’s Building in Chicago was organized by the art collector and socialite Bertha Palmer who personally hired women to design and decorate the building.” (28)

”An uncut sheet containing all the woven Prayer Book’s pages initially sold for 260 francs, a sizeable sum. A full-morocco (goat or sheepskin) binding easily added another 100 francs to the total cost. “ (30)

“The woven book is an uncanny ancestor to the pixelated digital images of electronic displays. It also stands apart from the manuscripts and printed facsimiles that inspired its pages in that there is no physical model (called an exemplar) to be copied by a scribe. Rather, the information containing the “stuff ” of its design was encoded in punched cards.” (34)

— uncanny valley nature of the book